A recent report by Reloop and Zero Waste Europe raises concerns about the transparency and biases present in studies that favor single-use packaging over reusable options. The report underscores the need for greater transparency in studies to accurately assess the economic and environmental viability of reusable take-away packaging compared to single-use alternatives.
As discussions on reuse targets are underway within the EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations (PPWR), the report emphasizes the importance of making decisions based on unbiased evidence rather than industry influence.
The report, titled “Unveiling the Complexities: Exploring LCAs of Reusable Packaging in the Take-Away Sector,” conducted by Eunomia Research & Consulting, examines three Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) from the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA), McDonald’s, and the University of Michigan. These assessments evaluate the environmental impacts of products across their entire lifecycle, from production to disposal.
Assumptions not supported by robust evidence leads to biased conclusions in favor of single-use options
The study reveals that the EPPA study heavily relies on assumptions lacking robust evidence, leading to biased conclusions in favor of single-use options. Additionally, the study fails to consider the potential of a circular economy, focusing on existing conditions within a linear economic structure.
The McDonald’s study lacks transparency in methodology, data, and assumptions, hindering meaningful analysis of its findings. On the other hand, the University of Michigan’s study offers a more robust framework for discussions on reusable take-away packaging, standing out as the only study not funded by the industry and free from transparency issues.
The report urges critical examination of funding sources and data transparency to discern the credibility of presented information.
Clarissa Morawski from Reloop highlights the importance of embracing reuse within a circular economy and emphasizes that biased and non-transparent studies should not guide academic or policy decisions. “Reuse will be an important function of a circular economy and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation can be a useful tool to start to embed reuse thinking and design into our economic systems<‘ Morawski said. “This report clearly shows that the published studies we examined which favor single-use take-away packaging over reuse are inherently flawed biased and nowhere near transparent enough to be taken seriously academically or for policy-making.”
Larissa Copello, Packaging and Reuse Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe, stresses the significance of well-designed pooling systems for efficient reusable packaging. “It’s clear that some of the industry-funded studies on reusable take-away packaging are flawed and did not explore the full potential of reuse systems for packaging,” Copello noted. “There’s no such thing as a sustainable material, but rather a sustainable system. When it comes to reusable packaging, a key element for efficient systems is pooling systems for reuse, under which the ownership of the packaging is shared among the participants as well as all the logistics and infrastructure, including washing facilities, collections points, etc. The revision of the PPWR should support such well-designed systems to be scaled up across Europe through mandatory reuse targets and economic incentives for reuse.”
Daniel Stunell, Managing Consultant at Eunomia Research & Consulting, emphasizes that transparency is vital for credibility and accurate assessment. Adjusting assumptions can significantly alter the environmental impact assessment, demonstrating the need for open exploration of various scenarios in understanding the potential of reuse. “We found that by using the same underlying data but with slightly more positive assumptions for reuse, the picture ends up looking very different,” Stunell said. “For example, assuming a 90% return rate rather than the 70% used by McDonald’s sees a 300% reduction in raw material impact, and this gets significantly better the closer we can get to 100%. Exploring these kinds of assumptions openly is essential to understanding the environmental potential of reuse.”
Source: Reloop and Zero Waste Europe